This is an introduction to the work of the Scottish poet
William Sydney Graham. Graham is best known for his long poem 'The Nightfishing' (1955),
and for the poems contained in the volumes
Malcolm Mooney's Land (1970) and Implements in Their
Places (1977), explorations of language and community
which move easily between playful charm and deep feeling. The exuberant
wordplay of his early work, owing something to both
Dylan Thomas and James Joyce, is currently unfashionable,
but worth rediscovering.
Graham's New Collected Poems edited by
Matthew Francis with a Foreword by Douglas Dunn is out now from Faber. Meanwhile,
two critical books have appeared, confirming the continuing posthumous growth of
W.S. Graham: Speaking Towards You, a collection of essays edited
by Ralph Pite and
Hester Jones is published by Liverpool University Press, and Where the People Are: Language and Community in the Poetry
of W.S. Graham, a study by Matthew Francis, has just come out from Salt Publishing.
T.S. Eliot wrote of his work:
Some of these poems - by their sustained power, their
emotional depth and maturity and their superb technical
skill - may well be among the more important poetical achievements of our
And Harold Pinter recalled:
I first read a W.S. Graham poem in 1949. It sent a shiver
down my spine. Forty-five years later nothing has
changed. His work is unique and his song an inspiration.
Graham was born in Greenock in 1918. His father was a shipyard
engineer, and he was apprenticed as a draughtsman in the
same industry. However, after attending evening classes
at Glasgow University and spending a year studying literature and
philosophy as a residential student at a Working Men's College, he
committed himself to a career as a poet. So great was this commitment
that he chose not to take any other employment, and lived frugally
for the rest of his life on the meagre proceeds of his
writing and the support of friends and patrons.
His first collection of poems,
Cage Without Grievance, was published in 1942, and six other
collections followed before the publication of Collected
Poems in 1979. In 1954, he married Nessie Dunsmuir.
He spent most of his life in Cornwall
where he was friendly with the modernist painters of
the St Ives school, especially Bryan Wynter and Roger Hilton.
He died in 1986 at the age of 67.
Dates in brackets are
those of first publication in book form.
O Gentle Queen of the Afternoon
Shian Bay and Gigha
Listen. Put on Morning
The Beast in the Space
The Constructed Space
I Leave This At Your Ear
Imagine a Forest
To Alexander Graham
Poems reproduced by kind permission of The Estate of W.S. Graham
and Faber and Faber Ltd.
Photograph of W.S. Graham copyright © Michael Seward Snow, 2000.
Thanks to Michael and Margaret Snow for their help with this site.
For copyright permissions and biographical information,
please apply to:
W.S. Graham Estate
c/o Faber and Faber Ltd
74-77 Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DA
- Publishers of The Nightfisherman, a selection of
Andrew Crumey - The Scottish writer's information on Graham
Faber and Faber
- Publishers of Graham's Selected Poems and New Collected Poems
- Owner of this site
Guardian - Andrew Motion's review of New Collected Poems
Jacket Magazine - Peter Riley's
review of New Collected Poems and Where the People Are
Liverpool University Press - Publishers of W.S. Graham: Speaking Towards You
Observer - John Kinsella's review of New Collected Poems
Harold Pinter - The late Nobel laureate was a lifelong Graham admirer
Salt Publishing - Publishers of Where the People Are
Shearsman - Brief review of New Collected Poems